Beekeeping

Here at the Woodlands School we keep a number of beehives housing over 100,000 bees! Robin Wilson our Headteacher is a qualified beekeeper and integrates the keeping of bees into the curriculum. We also make our own honey!

Studying bees adds significantly to the wider education of pupils. For example:-

  • Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are environmentally friendly and are vital as pollinators. Over one third of the food we eat would not be available without the help of bees.
  • Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water. It’s also the only food that contains “pinocembrin”, an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.
  • There are three types of honey bee in a hive:
  1. one queen – who is much larger than the rest and lays the eggs
  2. ‘worker’ bees – all female and responsible for maintaining the hive, looking after the queen and larvae and finding food
  3. drones – male bees who cannot sting and whose only responsibility is to mate with queen.
  • A single colony can have between 20,000 and 60,000 bees. They are a very social community with every bee having a role within the hive, whether tending the eggs, producing honeycomb or searching for food.
  • Bees collect both nectar and pollen from plants and store them in their hives to feed the queen, the workers and the larvae. The nectar provides energy and the pollen is their main source of protein.
  • The honey bee’s wings move incredibly fast at about 200 beats per second; thus making their distinctive buzz. A honey bee can fly for up to six miles and as fast as 15 miles per hour.
  • Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors, compared with only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes. Their exceptional olfactory abilities include kin recognition signals, social communication within the hive, and odour recognition for finding food. Their sense of smell is so precise that they can differentiate between hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carries pollen or nectar from metres away.
  • The average worker bee produces about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime of just five to six weeks. A hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles; the equivalent of three orbits around the earth to collect 1 kg of honey.
  • Bees are able to communicate with each other and share information about the best food sources using their famous ‘waggle dance’. When the bee returns to the hive it moves in a figure-of-eight and waggles its body to indicate the direction of the food source from the hive. The bigger the waggle, the better the food!
  • In Autumn, colonies shrink to approximately 10,000 bees. They do not hibernate, but huddle together in the middle of the hive for warmth. They feed on the honey and pollen stored in the hive over summer.
  • The queen bee can live up to five years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months, when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength, and lays up to 2500 eggs per day.
  • Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened or they are defending the hive. They die once they sting. Queens also have a stinger, but they do not leave the hive to help defend it.
  • Over the past few years bee keepers have been experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) where whole hives of bees will suddenly die off for no apparent reason. The cause of CCD is, as yet, undefined, but researchers believe that it could be a combination of factors including disease, use of pesticides and environmental conditions.
  • Honey bees are prone to infestation by Varroa, mites that live on the backs of bees. The mite came to the UK in the 1990s after Asian honey bees were introduced for their greater honey-producing capacity. Without management of the Varroa mite by the bee keeper, entire colonies can be killed in just a few weeks.
  • It is believed that there are few ‘wild’ bees left in the UK with most colonies living in hives managed by bee keepers.
  • Honey is the ultimate in natural, unprocessed food. The only processing it goes through is extraction from the comb and filtration to remove any wax.
  • Honey is the only food that never goes off! Jars of still edible honey have been found in Egyptian tombs. This is a result of honey’s low water content and low pH making it unsuitable for bacteria to survive in.
  • A colony of bees can produce 60 pounds of honey over the course of one summer. Bee keepers will only take up to a third of this, with the rest of the stores used by the bees and their larvae themselves.
  • Urban bees like ours have access to a much wider variety of food sources than country bees thanks to the number of different plants in parks and gardens opposed to fields full of one or two crops. This makes their honey tastier!

Further Reading: